Should visitors pay to visit England’s cathedrals and historic churches? The issue has a subject of debate since Westminster Abbey and others led the way by charging entrance fees in the 1990s. Some like Bath Abbey, Durham Cathedral, and Ripon Cathedrals get by without imposing entrance charges. You do not have to pay if you tell staff at the entrance you are attending a service.

A new report from Visit England says there has been a 2 percent drop in visitors, and entrance fees seem to be putting off tourists. Some favorite religious destinations report an 8 percent drop in visits. There was a 12 percent drop among destinations that charge an entry fee.

Some of the best-known landmarks are hit hardest. Figures for 2015-16 report a drop of 27.8 percent at Westminster Abbey and 5.6 percent at St Paul’s. Canterbury Cathedral where the entry fee is £12.50, reported a similar decrease, despite an overall 2 percent rise in visitors to tourist attractions.

“Aside from places of worship, all types of attraction increased their gross revenue in 2016,” the report said. “It is worth noting that places of worship were also the category with the highest increase in admission charges.”

The National Churches Trust, which supports historic church buildings, says entrance fees are too high.

Even so, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s, and Canterbury Cathedral remain in the top 20 of paid visitor attractions. Many famous churches and cathedrals receive very little external funding, which makes it crucial that money is raised from tourists maintain the fabric of the buildings and support their spiritual life.

A spokeswoman for the Church of England told the media: “The primary purpose of all our 16,000 churches and cathedrals is as places of worship for all. Millions of people visit our churches for this purpose each year, others visit to find peace in a busy world, explore the rich cultural heritage that these great buildings offer or to receive support in times of crisis.”

John Martin

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